Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Are Boxelder Bugs Invading Your Home?

Below and to the left Boxelder seeds - Samara and middle picture Boxelder Bug and final picture Boxelder leaves.

Boxelder bugs can be a nuisance from fall through spring in and around your home. The picture to the far left is an adult boxelder bug. They find crevices, cracks in walls, doors, foundations and crawl inside. On warm sunny days they are often found on the exterior of west or south side of buildings. As you can see from the picture on the left, these adults are flat-backed, elongate and narrow about 1/2 inch long, 1/3 inch wide and e a dark brownish-black with three lengthwise red stripes on the pronotum or area behind the head. There are three veins in the wings and the abdomen is bright red under the wings which you cannot see in the picture.

Typically, the boxelder bugs feed on a variety of plants. Their favorite food are the seed pods of boxelder trees and then occassionally maple seeds. So if you have a female boxelder tree then you might expect to see boxelder bugs. They also feed on sap of these trees as well as fruit trees. The above picture of leaves is a sample of boxelder leaves courtesy of Cornell University Extension.

The boxelder tree is a maple, Acer negundo which grows best along rivers or streams. It is found in Colorado along riverbanks but is also found in flood plain areas. These trees have very soft wood with no commercial value. Their seeds germinate easily and can become a weedy species. So, if you do place this in your landscape, plan on being overrun with boxelder trees and bugs.

Boxelder bugs are just a nuisance. In late summer the second generation crawl down to the ground and the adults and large nymphs begin to congregate in large numbers. They migrate to a protective, warm place to overwinter. They come out of hibernation in late March and females begin laying rusty red eggs in groups during late April or early May. The eggs hatch in 11 to 19 days and begin their five nymphal instars. The instars become progressively darker red with each stage. The first-generation nymphs feed on boxelder seeds, various low-growing plants and recently dead insects. These first-generation nymphs become fully grown by early summer. Then, a second generation occurs in late summer and the eggs are laid, more exclusively on boxelder seeds. The adults from the second generation begin to congregate, migrate and hibernate.

Other plants that the boxelder bugs feed on are as listed: ash, elm, cherry, apple, peach, grape and strawberries. You may find scarring or dimpling on fruits.

Insecticidal soap is recommended to control the large congregations of boxelder bugs. Once inside the house, they can be killed by direct contact with a household insecticidal aerosol or household spray cleaner. Using a vacuum cleaner can be just as effective. Come late spring or about May, the surviving boxelder bugs move back to their host trees and stop becoming a nuisance for the homeowner.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Winter Landscape Reveal Some Redesigning

A gardener's work is never done. Winter is the best time for viewing the overall structure of your garden layout or design. Whether you use a balanced symmetrical design or an unbalanced asymmetrical design, winter exposes the structural elements of our gardens. These elements would be the placement of paths that lead you into the garden and direct overall circulation. The proper placement of other hard scape features like statues, fountains, walls, gazebos or creative artwork will become obvious.

Keep in mind the principles of landscape design as you are redesigning so that you do not make the same mistakes again. The first principle to consider is unity. To understand unity, you need to have consistency and repetition which should follow through in all the elements in your garden from the walkway to the plants. Without unity, the garden will feel and look hap hazard. Everything was an after thought. Theme gardens are the easiest to create unity. Theme gardens which follow the rule for the same color or textures throughout. Ladew Gardens in Monkton, Maryland is a garden with 15 theme gardens in it. Some of the theme ideas used in Ladew Gardens are a berry garden, pink, rose, white gardens, woodland garden, Victorian Garden and a Garden of Eden. Another famous garden in Colorado that uses theme gardens is Denver Botanic Gardens. Some of them are a woodland garden, a wildflower garden, a vegetable garden to name a few. You get the idea. Be creative!

The second principle to keep in mind is simplicity. Some of the most beautiful and pleasing gardens to the eye and also commands a peaceful space are those with a few well placed elements. I think of the Japanese technique of Ikebana flower design when I think of simplicity. In Ikebana flower design, less is more. Using just one color or one type of texture or one type of specific boulder or shape throughout the garden are all examples of simplicity. Do not clutter the garden with stuff. Have a specific purpose in mind for the placement of an element.

Lastly, balance is the third principle. When you use one shape or texture on one side of the garden, use the same shape on the other side. Balance is about keeping things equal in our gardens. Symmetrical is an aspect of balance in the garden by keeping spaces equal in all areas of the garden as well as shape, size, color and texture. Gardens designed in a formal manner are noticeably balanced. The Italian Water garden at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania is designed in a formal manner. The picture at the beginning of this blog is a formal garden setting in Kutztown State University, Kutztown, Pennsylvania. This landscape won the 2010 Green Star Award from the Professional Grounds Management Society as one of the many landscapes demonstrating the best in grounds management.
On the other hand, asymmetrical is an aspect of balance where you deliberately have areas that are more random while all the other elements within those areas remain constant with shape, color, size and texture. Gardens designed in an informal manner can be considered asymmetrical. Gardens designed informally are woodland gardens or cottage gardens.

As you view your garden landscape through the winter, think about these principles as you make changes for the coming gardening season. Stretch your creativity and try something new. Enjoy the process!